With energetic rock anthems such as “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” in their repertoire, a Dropkick Murphys concert often feels like a big party.
At the same time, they aren’t afraid to get serious and voice their opinion on important issues and topics. Following singer Al Barr’s brother-in-law’s death due to an overdose several years ago, the band was inspired to write songs addressing the opiate epidemic, for their 2017 album “11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory.”
The band has also contributed to the Claddagh Fund, which helps individuals addicted to opiates.
“We’re just doing our part,” drummer Matt Kelly said in an interview. “I don’t think our involvement in the campaign is something we can be proud of or anything; in a better world we wouldn’t have this crisis to address.
“As double-edged a sword as it is when a band gets on a soapbox about an issue, I think the opiate epidemic cuts across all political and socio-economic lines,” Kelly said. “It seems like everybody we speak to, including all of us, has been touched, directly or indirectly, by addiction to opiates. You have anyone from poor kids from rough neighborhoods to housewives in gated communities, slaves to prescription drugs… and when the money runs out, heroin is the next step.”
Dropkick Murphys return to Madison to perform at The Sylvee, 25 S. Livingston St. as part of their traditional St. Patrick's Day tour. The show starts at 6:45 p.m., with Booze & Glory, Lenny Lashley and Amigo the Devil opening. Tickets are $35 and up through thesylvee.com.
“You’ll Never Walk Alone,” the Rodgers and Hammerstein song from "Carousel," was highly influential as the band started writing the album. They decided to cover the song as an ode to those struggling with addiction, and it inspired them to write their own songs.
While not all the album’s songs are directly about the opiate crisis, its story-rich songs give a personal look at the victories and losses we all go through.
“I think it humanizes the topic,” Kelly said. “With most of us having grown up hearing Irish folk songs, and then the Pogues, storytelling has always been a part of that tradition. It’s from the everyman angle. We aren’t trained songwriters in the great tradition of balladeering and all that. We write songs from a street view and sensibility.”
In the past, the band would record an album at a studio somewhere in their Boston hometown. However, this time they decided to drive to Tornillo, Texas and record pretty much in the middle of nowhere.
Kelly wasn’t thrilled when he first heard the band’s plans to change things up. But he quickly found himself enjoying the unfamiliar environment. He enjoyed being free of typical every day distractions such as “I need to pick up X for supper” and “who’s going to walk the dog?” and instead being able to focus solely on music.
“Recording in Tornillo, TX allowed us to concentrate solely on recording our songs, to really flesh them out, be creative, get spontaneous, and work from 10 a.m. to around midnight or later every night,” he said. “It sort of was like being on tour in the fact that we were out on a mission. This time, instead of playing the best gig we could that night, it was to record the best album we could.”
One of the most challenging songs for the band to write was “4-15-13,” a song in remembrance to those affected by the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.
“We wanted to write a song addressing awful tragedy, but without being either sappy and mournful or belligerent, knee-jerk, and violent,” Kelly said. “I think we were all very surprised at the final outcome of the song. All we had was a basic outline, at best, for the song when we arrived at the studio.”
After playing the songs for nearly two years, Kelly says their song “Blood” is one of his favorites to play live.
“It’s an ode to our supporters from the beginning to the present,” Kelly says. “And let’s face it, without them we’d still be playing in the basement of a barbershop or in Rick’s grandmother’s garage!”